Notre Dame seeks to take ACC lead vs. Louisville
Greg McKenna | Wednesday, February 9, 2022
When Notre Dame fell to Indiana in the state capital Dec. 18, the Irish sat at 4-5 and firmly off-pace to end an NCAA Tournament drought dating back to 2017.
With a win Wednesday night against Louisville at Purcell Pavilion less than two months later, Notre Dame will obtain sole possession of the ACC lead.
The Irish are currently tied atop the league standings with No. 7 Duke, who beat Notre Dame at Purcell convincingly Monday. However, Notre Dame’s subsequent road wins over Miami and NC State, combined with Virginia’s last-second 69-68 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday, mean the Irish will stand alone, at least for a night, at the summit of the conference if they can take care of a below-.500 Cardinals squad at home.
Notre Dame (16-7, 9-3 ACC) has won six of its last seven and 12 of its last 14 games since Dec. 20. Joe Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology currently has the Irish inside the bubble as one of the last four teams receiving byes past the First Four.
Notre Dame’s 9-3 conference record matches the 2014-15 Irish team for the best start to an ACC schedule in program history.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals (11-12, 5-8 ACC) are losers of their last five games, including an 82-70 home loss to the Irish in late January. The Notre Dame defeat was the penultimate game in charge for former Louisville head coach Chris Mack, who parted ways with the Cardinals Jan. 26 after an 11-9 start.
Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune reported Tuesday that Nate Laszewski is unlikely to be available against the Cardinals. The senior forward exited Notre Dame’s 69-57 win over the Wolfpack Saturday with a bruised right leg. Brey said he considers Laszewski, who is averaging 8.4 points per game and 44.4% shooting from three this season, a game-time decision.
The Irish have largely stuck with a seven-man rotation all season long, but Laszewski’s injury means sophomore forward Matt Zona might see significant playing time Monday night. Zona has played just over nine minutes in four games for the Irish this season.
Though thin in the frontcourt, the Irish have been able to rely on graduate transfer Paul Atkinson Jr. for consistent scoring in the post this season. The 2019-2020 Ivy League Player of the Year at Yale was named ACC Player of the week Monday after averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in his last three games.
The forward from West Palm Beach, Florida, posted 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Irish past the Hurricanes, who at the time were atop the ACC Standings. Against NC State, Atkinson again led the Irish with 15 points and 10 rebounds while logging a season-high 37 minutes.
Notre Dame led by as many as 17 in the first half against the Wolfpack, but NC State stormed back to take the lead early in the second half. However, Notre Dame responded with a 21-4 run over the next 10 minutes to rebuild a 14-point lead.
Irish head coach Mike Brey said postgame that Notre Dame’s zone defense helped the Irish retake control.
“We played fast early, right. We were getting down the floor, getting stops,” he said. “And in the second half we talked about, ‘We’re going to have to grind and slow it down a little bit and play some zone and make it a little bit of a slower game.’”
Louisville co-captain Malik Williams was allowed to rejoin the team Monday after being indefinitely suspended a week prior. The senior forward/center from Fort Wayne, Indiana, leads the Cardinals with 10 points and 8.7 rebounds per game this season.
If the Irish win Wednesday, Notre Dame will have beaten Louisville twice in the same season for the first time in program history.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will air on ESPNU.